The first opportunity for United States triathletes to qualify for the 2016 U.S. Olympic triathlon team is set for this Sunday at the 2015 Rio de Janeiro test event in Brazil. In terms of qualification, the bottom line for Americans is that a top-eight finish (with a maximum of two per gender) means a spot on the 2016 Olympic team.
Nine American women are on the start list for Sunday’s race, including Gwen Jorgensen, Katie Zaferes and Sarah True, who are currently ranked 1-2-3 in the Columbia Threadneedle ITU World Triathlon Series Rankings. Jorgensen, the reigning ITU World Champion and 2012 Olympian, has maintained a streak of 11 wins on the ITU World Triathlon Series, beginning in May 2014. Her 14 career WTS wins are nearly three times more than any other woman in series history, but qualifying for Rio 2016 is at the top of her to-do list.
Zaferes is seeking a spot on what would be her first Olympic team. In her third season as an elite triathlete, Zaferes has finished on the podium in five WTS events since March, with four silver medals and one bronze to her name. She recently finished sixth at WTS Hamburg on July 18. True, runner-up of the 2014 ITU World Championships and fourth-place finisher at the 2012 Olympic Games, is also eyeing one of the two top spots on Sunday. She missed the podium by one second in Hamburg, but she owns two medals this season and won her first WTS title less than a year ago in Stockholm.
Other American women on the start list are Lindsey Jerdonek, Kirsten Kasper, Renée Tomlin, Kaitlin Donner, Chelsea Burns and Erin Jones. Between them, these six women have earned five wins in ITU World Cup or Continental Cup events, five podium finishes in World Cup or Continental Cup events, and five top-10 finishes on the WTS circuit. The U.S. women have won a medal at all seven WTS events held this year, including two unprecedented podium sweeps, and have earned a medal in all but one ITU World Cup.
The U.S. men are led by Kevin McDowell with his recent silver medal at the 2015 Pan American Games in Toronto on July 12. A top-eight finish for McDowell would mean his first Olympic team at the senior level after a Youth Olympic Games silver-medal performance in 2010. McDowell is joined by four other men on the start list who could also secure their first Olympic Games berth: Ben Kanute, Greg Billington, Joe Maloy and Tommy Zaferes. McDowell also has a bronze medal to his name this season from the Chengdu ITU World Cup, and Kanute owns the top finish for an American man in a WTS event after he finished ninth in Auckland.
Four-time Olympian Hunter Kemper and 2008 Olympian Jarrod Shoemaker are also on the start list for Sunday. Kemper has been the top-finishing American man at each of the four Olympic Games he has competed in and is no stranger to the challenges of Olympic qualification. Shoemaker cracked the top 10 at the WTS Grand Final in Edmonton last August, finishing seventh against a talented global field.
Other Story Lines To Follow
In the men’s race, it will be a battle of Olympic medalists Javier Gomez (ESP) and Alistair Brownlee (GBR) versus the up and comers like Mario Mola (ESP), Fernando Alarza (ESP), Richard Murray (RSA) and Vincent Luis (FRA).
In the women’s race, the majority of the attention will be on the American trio of Jorgensen, Zaferes and True, but there are other strong names to follow. Look for Andrea Hewitt (NZL), Aileen Reid (IRL), Vicky Holland (GBR), Emma Moffatt (AUS), Jodie Stimpson (GBR), Non Stanford (GBR) and Flora Duffy (BER) to race hard with the goal of shaking up the podium.
When and Where
The action takes place along Rio’s Copacabana Beach and Avenida Atlantica, with the elite event on Sunday, Aug. 2, to showcase top athletes competing on a 1,500-meter swim, 40-kilometer bike, 10-kilometer run course. The elite women are set to race at 8 a.m. ET (9 a.m. local time) on Aug. 2, with the elite men to follow at 11:30 a.m. ET (12:30 p.m. local time).
How To Follow
Live timing will be available at Triathlon.org/live, and U.S.-specific live updates will be shared at Twitter.com/usatlive. Additionally, highlights from the races will be shared in the ITU magazine show on Aug. 13. There will be no live video coverage of the event.
Two spots per gender are available for Americans to automatically qualify for a spot on the 2016 U.S. Olympic Triathlon Team. A top-eight finish is required in order to secure a spot for Rio 2016 this weekend, and if three or more U.S. athletes finish in the top eight, only the top two will qualify. Visit Usatriathlon.org for a detailed guide on U.S. Olympic Triathlon Team qualification procedures.